What the meltdown means to me, a 35-year-old married West Coast homeowner

Despite my Ivy League MBA and my role as a founder of a personal finance web site, I haven't done much in the way of planning my financial situation. All of my financial milestones in the past decade or so have been accidental, serendipitous, or just a gut response to a disaster.

I was pregnant pretty much the moment after I was engaged, at 28. Through the birth of three boys (all of which came along a little sooner than I expected), I worked in a unusual career that I made up out of whole cloth, starting out in dotcom operations management, finance and product development and ending as a professional blog producer. While it paid fairly well, it did not pay nearly as well as the jobs of my business school peers; and it became very difficult to make extra room in my budget to pay my huge student loan payments. Instead of paying down my student loans, I've only compounded them.

One thing I did brilliantly was to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood immediately upon getting pregnant with my first child, and never refinancing it. Buying it was a gut reaction to the nesting hormones, but it turned out wonderfully. Four years later a Starbucks went in two blocks away, and my home's value doubled. Early on, I took out a home equity loan to (hiding my head in shame) pay for our wedding; I'm thankful I never refinanced the house, keeping my ARM that was garnered at the peak of my credit score. While I was seriously guilty of living outside of my means as a young bride and mama, after I became pregnant with my second son I buttoned down the hatches, canceling all my credit cards and vowing to live on what I made.

That one really good decision -- never to refinance my mortgage -- has paid off with a low-ish monthly payment and a fast-reducing principal balance. And with my new philosophy of "no debt no way never," I know at least I won't be facing a tough credit review at my local bank.